There will be no Ducks baseball in 2020. The team is abandoning plans to play a 70-game schedule with other independent baseball clubs after numerous unsuccessful attempts to gain exemption from the state’s decision not to allow fans into professional sports venues, the Ducks announced Tuesday afternoon.
“We worked very hard with our medical partners and with the county to put all the plans in place, but it’s out of our control,” Ducks CEO and founder Frank Boulton told Newsday. “This is a pandemic and we have to respect the health and safety guidelines that the governor has put forward. We have to protect our players, fans, and sponsors.”
Boulton continued: “It’s incredibly disappointing, but we gave it a really good shot. We did put our best foot forward.”
The Ducks were planning to play in front of a 25% capacity – roughly 1,500 fans – at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. The Ducks submitted a safety plan to county and state officials that, if approved, would have led to a season beginning in mid-July and ending in late September with a five-game championship series to follow.
“This is obviously not the outcome we worked towards,” Ducks president/GM Michael Pfaff said in a news release. “We worked very hard on presenting something that was well thought out, using common sense and abiding by the highest governmental and medical standards available during the process. Ultimately, it was not enough to get the season started in a timely fashion.”
In addition to reduced capacity, the detailed safety plan submitted to the state included cashless payment methods for food and beverage, ticketing, and merchandise, increased cleaning practices and social distancing guidelines, and daily temperature checks for all staff members. The Ducks were also going to require fans wear face masks and attempt to check the temperature of all fans entering the ballpark, according to the safety plan released to the media Tuesday.
But once the state announced that fans would not be allowed into the ballpark – which was originally proposed under the fourth phase of Suffolk County’s reopening - thoughts of a season quickly diminished. Minor league baseball, specifically at the independent level, needs fans to enter the ballpark to make it economically viable. With no major television deal – the Ducks broadcast their games on their own YouTube channel – revenue comes nearly exclusively from fans making the trip to Central Islip, Pfaff told Newsday in April.
“One hundred percent of our revenue is derived from ticket sales, sponsorship, merchandise sales, and food and beverage,” Pfaff said. “All of that revolves around opening the gates.”
County Executive Steve Bellone, during his daily virus briefing, commented on the Ducks being unable to play this season.
Bellone said while Major League Baseball has the financial capacity to play without fans, the Ducks do not.
“The Ducks obviously don’t have that capacity. Fans need to come to the ballpark and honestly that’s exactly what we want…we want to give people and families things to do this summer.
“But the reality is that that’s not going to happen…we thought their plan was thorough and detailed…it followed protocols that Major League Baseball used…they worked with the health department and put together a great plan….we believed we could do it safely for a shortened 2020 season.”
Bellone said “looking on the bright side” the Ducks will still remain the Atlantic League champions “when we welcome them back next year.”
Only two other Atlantic League teams - the High Point Rockers and the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs – were included in the plan to play a 70-game season, the Ducks said on June 19. The three were working with various other independent teams from around the ‘mid-Atlantic’ region of the country to form a six or eight team schedule.
The Rockers and Blue Crabs also announced Tuesday that they are abandoning plans for a 2020 season.
The Sugar Land Skeeters, whom the Ducks beat in last season’s Atlantic League Championship Series, announced Monday that their four-team league comprised of teams that will play exclusively in their home ballpark in Texas will push opening day back one week, from July 3 to July 10. That league includes teams managed by Roger Clemens and his son Koby, former Mets and Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland and former all-star pitcher Greg Swindell, in addition to current Skeeters manager and former Ranger and Yankee Pete Incaviglia.
The Ducks will now focus on booking Bethpage Ballpark for various uses that don’t include fans in the coming months, including camps, clinics, corporate events, and field rentals, the team said in the release.
Boulton said that the team’s goal is now to get ready for a traditional Atlantic League season in 2021.